Ebook discoverability has always been one of the hottest topics among indie authors. With ebooks never going out of print, and more and more ebooks being published every week, the struggle for visibility on major retailers has become ever greater.
Nowadays, readers will only come across an ebook on Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, or Google Play if it is high enough in the rankings — whether these are rankings on a bestseller list, in a particular category, or in the search results for a specific keyword. That’s why it’s so important to understand how each of these stores rank and order ebooks.
There’s so much that goes into these placements — far too much to cover in a single post. But I can at least share three key insights — based on experimentation and collective information sharing — that you probably weren’t aware of when it comes to ebook retailer rankings.
1. Price impacts Amazon’s ebook search results positions
There is a lot of information out there about Amazon’s bestseller list algorithm — the “rank,” as most authors call it. However, there is much less information about Amazon’s search algorithm, which, incidentally, works in a very different way.
The rank (aka bestsellers) algorithm is thought to be based on recent sales and borrows (both volume and velocity), with free downloads split into a separate list.
The search algorithm has a lot more factors at play, many of which are impossible to guess, let alone to quantify the importance of each. There are some things we do know, but first, it’s important to distinguish between indexing and positioning factors:
- Indexing factors decide whether a book will show up for a given search at all.
- Positioning factors decide the rank of all the indexed books, i.e. decide which will show up first on a search results page.
The indexing factors that we know about include:
- Title metadata. If your title, subtitle, series title, or author name contains the keyword (or a close variation of the keyword) that is being searched.
- The seven Amazon keywords.
- The book’s categories.
- Sometimes, the book description.
However, the positioning factors are much harder to guess. Many authors believe the main factor is sales — i.e. the more a book sells, the higher up it’ll show up for all searches it’s indexed for. The reality is likely a lot more complicated than that.
First off, it’s believed that Amazon uses a variation of their categories and subcategories lists to rank their search results. Of course, sales play a big role in the categories lists, but price plays an equally important role. A book selling 10 copies a day at $6.99 will rank on search much, much higher than a book selling 10 copies at $1.99. Consider this search in the Kindle Store department:
I’ve annotated this screenshot with the retail price of each book, as well as its overall Amazon Best Seller Rank (ABSR).
As you can see, the ebook in first position is also the bestselling one. However, the book in second position has a much worse ABSR than the ones below, meaning it doesn’t sell as well. So why is it ranking ahead of the other books in the search? Because it’s priced higher. Each sale of this ebook drives a higher value (for Amazon and the author and publisher), so Amazon is inclined to position it higher.
This is also why, when running searches on the overall Books store, you’ll typically see a predominance of paperbacks, hardbacks, and audiobooks in the first spots — despite those often selling fewer copies than competing ebooks.
Of course, price is far from the only or even the main ranking factor. You can price your book as high as you want; if it doesn’t sell, it’s going to remain buried at the bottom of the search rankings. But in my experience, price is a ranking factor that’s often overlooked by authors playing the Amazon SEO game.
2. Organic sales performance plays another key role in Amazon searches
Another underestimated factor for search visibility on Amazon is the book’s organic sales performance, i.e. the number of historical sales driven by searches on Amazon.
It’s something very few authors or even search engine blogs talk about, but it’s hinted at in this article on Search Engine Land: “‘At the end of the day, Amazon is a platform for getting people products that they want, really fast… And so, how does Amazon know what the consumer wants? It’s conversion relative to keyword, and that is really the core of why sales velocity is most important.’”
What’s “conversion relative to keyword,” you’ll ask? It’s basically the percentage of people who buy the book after seeing it in a search for that keyword. In other words, the more people buy your book after finding it through a specific search, the higher Amazon will position that book for that search.
Does this mean other sales (e.g. driven by ads, or by a newsletter) don’t matter? Not necessarily — it seems the more a book sells (and the better it converts) in general, the better its chances of ranking high in search results. However, it seems Amazon’s search algorithm will give more weight to organic sales, and specifically to organic sales resulting from similar searches.
This makes sense, after all: Amazon’s goal when people use the search is to return the products that they think they are the most likely to buy. And which better product than the one that has historically performed best in searches for that same keyword?
3. Dropping prices can yield prominent placement in Apple Books search results
Authors already know that running an ebook price promotion — running a limited-time discount or making an ebook free — can boost a book up retailers’ bestsellers rankings. But did you know that on Apple Books, the search algorithms also seem to favor free and deeply discounted books?
Consider this search for “thriller,” for example:
The search results include a mix of traditionally published and self-published titles, and two-thirds of the books have “thriller” in the title. What’s interesting, however, is the huge proportion of free and deeply discounted books in the results. This suggests that Apple Books’ search algorithm works differently from Amazon’s search algorithm, which seems to favor higher-priced books, and that discounts have a bigger impact on discoverability beyond the bestsellers list.
That’s it for these retailer ranking secrets! If you’re hungry for more, great news: You’ll find plenty more tips in my free book. And if you have more retailer secrets to share, tell us in the comments below.
The views and opinions expressed in this guest post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BookBub.
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Click to tweet: Fascinating article on what elements impact the search result rankings on various ebook retailers! 🔎📕 https://bit.ly/3eI83zB
Click to tweet: Things that can impact ebook retailer search result rankings:
– Amazon: price (high!) and organic sales performance
– Apple: price (low and free!)
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